Thursday, March 31, 2016

Just Because

When I was a kid, the majority of my Sundays were spent visiting my Grandma McCane in her home, about an hour from ours.  She lived in Bracken County, KY, on the 85 acre farm where my dad had been born and raised.  Grandma wasn't a complicated woman.  She was a survivor of the depression and wore that truth well.  By the time my memories of my grandmother began, she was retired from a long teaching career, but she was still an educator to the core of her being.  She wasn't a particularly warm and fuzzy woman, in fact, she could be pretty harsh.  She had opinions on nearly everything and she wasn't afraid to share them, even when it was hurtful.  But, for all of her tough exterior, I never doubted that she loved me and wanted the very best for me.  She certainly didn't demonstrate it in the way that my children have experienced with their grandparents, but she was integral in shaping me into the person I am today.  

One of my favorite childhood possessions to this day is a version of a tic, tac, toe game that she created which combined trivia questions that she wrote with ordinary tic, tac, toe.  Grandma McCane believed that everything came with hard work, and so even with tic, tac, toe, you had to answer the question before you could get the opportunity to place an X or O on the board.  The questions were basic things that she believed every child should know,  literary and Bible references,  basic science and history principles, that sort of thing.  It's because of her that I can finish nearly any nursery rhyme with the correct words, figure out sale percentages with ease, and have a love for reading.  She invested in my life, one Sunday afternoon at a time.

Because my Grandmother could be a little harsh with her words, my mom did not usually accompany us for our Sunday visits.  It was sort of best for everyone if their relationship was contained to graduations and a very occasional major holiday.  It's likely not ideal, but it worked well for our family.  My mom used her Sunday afternoon to sew and garden while my dad spent Sunday after Sunday visiting his mama.  It was their best attempt at a win/win.  

In many ways, I suppose our Sunday visits were pretty mundane.  My dad usually spent some time doing chores that my grandmother needed help with, much of that time was in the garden.  After my grandfather died of a heart attack in my preschool years, they began to lease out much of the acreage for livestock and tobacco.  However, they still kept a large vegetable garden behind the house, far more than my grandmother and her family could eat.  I think it was what they knew and loved and it just made sense.  It was something they shared.  Every Sunday during the growing season we would leave with an enormous bundle of produce, which we would eat on all week long, until we would return to gather another.  To this day, I can't picture her house without being able to taste the buttery, sweet corn in my mouth.  

At the end of our visits, we generally shared a meal.  My grandmother was a terrible cook.  Well, maybe not terrible, but definitely not gifted.  That didn't stop us from gathering around her table and eating the fruit of her labor, much of it from the garden.  Then we would drive the hour home to face another week of routine.

I could go on and on with memories of my grandmother...her delicious homemade grape juice, my annual summer visits which stretched from one Sunday to the next, the smell of the tobacco barn, the sunset visits on her porch swing, and Little Bit, the chicken chasing farm dog that graced her front porch.  But, in all of those memories, I have very few distinct memories of specific events.  Twice, I remember my dad taking my grandmother off of the farm to do something together. Once we went to the big city of Maysville to buy a new blue Ford tractor.  Another time I remember us heading off to the annual Germantown fair.  Other than that, it was Sunday after ordinary Sunday, all of which bleed together in one beautiful picture of family and duty and routine.  

So today, in the pattern that my daddy modeled for me, I've come to the USA for an ordinary little visit.  I write this from the extra bedroom of my parent's home, where I'll be spending the next two weeks.  After lots of prayer and prompting by the Holy Spirit, Ryan and I made the decision that we would spend a little money and rearrange our personal family rhythms long enough for me to pay a visit to my daddy...just because.  He's not sick or in failing health.  He's not in trouble.  His not on the verge of some major life change.  He didn't beg me to come.  In fact, he was rather surprised when I asked him if he was up for a visitor.  But, I honestly have no ulterior motive other than just to pay my daddy a visit.

We don't have anything spectacular planned for my time here.  Last night we ate grilled cheese together while watching Wheel of Fortune.  Today, we're planning to go through his coupon stockpile stash and I'll pick out what I want to carry back with me when I leave in a couple of weeks. Then I'll make a list of what's left to buy.  After that, he'll insist I go through his coupons and see which ones I can use.  This weekend, we'll cheer for the best of what's left in the Final Four.  Nothing extraordinary, just some ordinary moments spent together.

My daddy's pretty old-school.  There are lots of things about how we see the world that vary greatly.  We don't always find a ton of common topics to dialogue about and our passions and pursuits are vastly different, but we still enjoy visiting.  I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loves me and he has always been faithful to demonstrate that in his own way.  He is 77 now, and he is as active and healthy as I could hope for him to be.  I believe he could live another decade or two and  I would love that.  But, there are no guarantees and I want to have no regrets about the choices I have made concerning my dad and our relationship.  Two years is a long time to go without a visit...especially with a man who refuses to enter the electronic age, despite my best efforts to tutor him in e-mail and Skype!  Without my mom here to be another set of eyes and ears in his world, I simply wanted to come and tarry for a bit.  This is simply because I understand that relationships aren't always built on extraordinary events.  Often they come one ordinary moment at a time.  That's why I'm here... just because.

Pa and his Campbell grands

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Today didn’t go like I’d expected.  Let’s be honest, they rarely do.  I awoke this morning after a restless night.  Our youngest came home yesterday complaining of a headache.  He was weepy and increasingly lethargic as the evening wore on.   I was headed to a Bible study I attend, so I gave him a bit of children’s Tylenol from our dwindling supply and headed next door.  Ryan and I made a game plan that he would push the fluids and put him to bed an hour early.  When I arrived home two hours later, Ryan reported that he’d gone to bed without a fight and all was well.

I visited with my older kids for a bit and was headed to bed when I had an urgency in my spirit that I needed to check on my little guy.  As soon as I placed my hand on his body, I knew he was feverish.  The thermometer quickly confirmed my suspicions with a reading of 103.1.  Realizing we weren’t at the four hour mark for Tylenol and knowing I had used the last of the Children’ Ibuprofen last week, I decided to wait a bit and see what happened.  Forty-five minutes later, I checked again and the thermometer immediately shot up to 104.4.  We made an apologetic 10PM phone call to some colleagues who agreed to let us use a bottle of Children’s ibuprofen so that we could begin to rotate the two.  When I woke Abe for the medicine, he begged me to let him sleep, telling me his head hurt too bad to wake up.  I tried not to panic, but immediately, I began to wonder if we might be dealing with malaria...the serious kind.  

We washed him in cool water and made the decision to start malaria treatment, even though we didn’t have a positive test. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do, but I do know that high fever and severe headache in a country where people regularly die from cerebral malaria, is something I don’t want to mess with.  I’ve heard again and again that early treatment is the key to beating it, and so we treated. After moving his mattress into our room and setting alarms on our phones for the next doses of meds, we decided to try to sleep.  I was up and down checking on him until finally, around midnight, after getting his temp down to 101.7, I drifted off to sleep.  Two hours later, we were up and down as he battled tummy troubles.  It was a rough night.

Of course, the morning came early, but even so, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the gifts it brought.  I had the realization that I had some way to access every medicine my boy needed, as soon as he got sick.  I didn’t have to go and beg for money from my neighbors to buy a single tablet.  We have a vehicle to go to multiple pharmacies to find the remaining treatment that we need.   I have the education to read the pamphlet in the anti-malarial insert.  I have a scale on which to weigh my son for proper dosing and I have abundant food options for him to choose from when his appetite comes back.  When my eyes couldn’t stay open any longer, I was able to put a DVD in my TV and allow my son to watch a video while I slept to the strains of Baloo the Bear singing, “I’ve Wanna Be Like You.”  This happened in my home with my ceiling fan and my soft mattress.  These blessings are so very apparent to me.

Especially today.  Because today, in between moments of caring for my son, I experienced another of my “firsts” in Africa.  This wasn’t a wedding or a baby naming ceremony or a new holiday.  Today was a burial.  It was a small ceremony, held on the corner of the property where I live.  The attendants were just Ryan, 3 of our colleagues, and I, alongside the two gardeners who dug the hole.  The grave was tiny, made for a little bitty baby who was born just a few hours earlier.  There was no casket and no headstone, just a tiny baby girl wrapped in a length of colorful African cloth, laid to rest on the African soil.

Her mother couldn’t be there. She was back in the hospital, having barely escaped with her life.  We pray that she will gain strength and overcome the challenges still ahead regarding her healing.  One of our colleagues had been advocating for her to have much needed pre-natal care since November.  It had become apparent at that time that the baby was not formed in a way that she would be able to survive in this world, but maybe, maybe with the proper care the mama would.  I won’t go into all the details, but let’s just say the stories of medical care here, and especially of this mama make me angry and discouraged and disgusted, all at the same time.  But at this moment, beside this tiny grave, that was irrelevant.  

There were a few things that struck me in that moment.  First of all, the sorrow of the whole story...a sick mama with empty arms, a baby girl who will never know life this side of heaven, the unfairness of the lack of medical care in this place.  Secondly, I was struck by the commitment and dedication of my colleagues.  One woman who has invested 30ish years of her life showing the love of Christ in West Africa through her medical wisdom and had asked Ryan and I to join them as they gathered to lay this little one to rest.  She’s seen countless babies born and helped bury far too many of those, she’s advocated for those who need care, she’s showed compassion and care in village after village, and she has consistently done what she could to help others.  I stood beside her as she and the other couple decided on a name for this special baby girl, in a language they have spent decades learning and living in.  I learned from them as they navigated the nuances of the moment and I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever have the depth of language, culture, and relationships that they have.   I shed tears alongside them and I was privileged to stand among them and offer up my prayers for this precious family.  

So, on what should have been an average Wednesday, I found my schedule adjusted to care for a sick boy and to celebrate the life of one extraordinary baby girl.